What's the First Step to Starting an Errand Service?

I want to start an errand service. Where do I begin?

Question:

Congratulations! You've selected a popular (and successful) field for mompreneurs. Errand running is a part of every mom's life, so it's a natural step to turn those talents into a business. Here are some strategies that will help you get an errand service off the ground.

  • Home in on a specialty. Figure out exactly what services you will offer. An errand business can cover many services, from secretarial backup, to gift and grocery shopping, to helping corporations with tasks that staff members are too busy for. The more specialized your services, the better you will be able to set yourself apart from other errand businesses in your area. Target a specific audience such as senior citizens, busy parents or pet owners; those are all hot markets. For example, you could do shopping or light housework for the elderly. Or you might run a cab service that shuttles children to after-school activities when working parents can't. We even heard of someone who opened a day camp for pets.
  • Do your homework. Research your business by reading everything you can get your hands on. Local women's business centers and entrepreneurial centers at nearby colleges are great sources of information. Network with other women who run errand businesses (you'll meet plenty of them on our Mompreneurs board). Scout the other errand businesses in your area so you can make sure yours is unique. To determine pricing, call as a potential customer to see what other businesses charge for similar services, and then set your fees competitively. Also check with your city government to see whether zoning permits home businesses where you live. Create a catchy name for your business and file a "fictitious name statement" with the county clerk's office or state tax office.
  • Plan your time. Think about ways to consolidate your activities so that you make the most of your time each day. If your specialty is shopping, you may want to spend mornings at the supermarket and schedule deliveries in the afternoon. Also think about what you'll do with your kids. Your children can certainly accompany you on errands and other behind-the-scenes tasks. But it will also be helpful to have backup child care for face-to-face meetings with clients, particularly in the start-up stage. Once you get the business running smoothly, clients will learn that you are reliable and won't mind seeing your kids once in a while, if they're well behaved.
  • Spread the word. First make up some marketing materials (letterhead, business cards, fliers or brochures). They should all have the same logo or design to establish your business identity. You may also want to create a Website for your business. Testimonials from people who've used your services are a nice addition to a flier, brochure or Website. Make sure your marketing materials stress your talents and expertise. If you're targeting other busy parents, it's a plus to mention that you're a mom yourself. Your audience will feel comforted knowing that you understand now how frazzled they feel. Network and market yourself wherever potential customers congregate. For example, if you're targeting senior citizens, pass out fliers at senior centers, golf courses, country clubs, libraries and medical centers. Joining the Chamber of Commerce is another great way to drum up business (and the membership is tax-deductible).
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